Brush Quality

To you artists out there – how long do your brushes last?

I’ve had varying success with all sorts of brands. Most of the cheap bristle brushes the nice art store lady picked out for me before my first community center oil painting class are still in great shape, yet I spend good money on supposedly good brushes and they die quick, painful deaths.

Example 1: Blick Masterstroke Finest Red Sable, bright, size 4 to be exact. Brand-spanking new on the left, gently* used on the right.


* it’s a soft brush so I try not to scrub too vigorously with it, but then again I tend to get carried away while painting, and wake up in a daze with a finished painting in front of me. So.

I know a lot of brushes get shorter with use, so I wouldn’t consider the brush dead just for that. But if you look closely, you notice that the hairs no longer fill the entire width of the ferrule. I noticed this because all of a sudden this favored brush of mine started leaving hairs all over paintings and my brush cleaning cake. This brush wasn’t really expensive, but it wasn’t a cheapy or student grade – it says Master and Finest on the handle! Marketing, grrr. So I had to toss it.

Example 2: Winsor & Newton Artists’ Water Colour Sable, 2 round. Sable can mean anything nowadays, but this one is actually Kolinsky, and not inexpensive. I used this nicely shaped round once or twice and now it’s so frayed I can’t use it for anything except clumsy blending. Kolinsky is supposed to be the best. What the hell, man?

Example 3: Isabey cat’s tongue size 4. Lovely brush, great handling. Problem – it’s not crimped. It’s brand new (and it was expensive), but I can pull the ferrule off the handle with ease. It was glued but that didn’t hold it. Anyone else have issues with Isabey brushes?

I’ve had some other brushes deconstruct, but they were cheapies. More surprisingly, I’ve had plenty of cheapo brushes hold up to much worse torment and keep on kicking. Price doesn’t mean everything, name doesn’t mean everything, and that is totally frustrating. The best luck I’ve had with brushes is those brands recommended to me by experienced artists. So – here’s my list for you!


Princeton Mini Brush, #2 filbert – this is my gouache workhorse. They wear down after a while, but they take a huge beating and keep going, never fraying.

Da Vinci Cosmotop Spin brushes – love the little rounds. They hold up really well and keep their shape. Also they have triangular handles and that’s weird and I like it.

Princeton Golden Taklon 1/4″ flat wash – I bought this set of 4 brushes on sale for like $5 for the heck of it, and this has become one of my go-to brushes. Holds up great, and the flat’s hairs don’t split too often while in use. Who knew?


Escoda Modernista synthetic mongoose – I absolutely love these brushes, springy yet soft and keep their shape beautifully. I’d recommend them to any oil painter.

Rosemary & Co mongoose – I just ordered a couple of these and can’t wait to try them. They’re recommended by all sorts of artists better than I.

Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II – these soft flats are versatile and I use them for blending all the time.

Robert Simmons White Sable – this cheap soft flat is great for blending and I use it often. Splits sometimes though.

Robert Simmons Sapphire rounds – they’re my go-to round for detailing, recommended by the great Larry Elmore. Cheap and resilient.

Please, share your recommendations!

2 thoughts on “Brush Quality”

  1. I noticed the quality of brushes around here have steadily been declining. Either that or it could be the stores around here have been starting to sell cheep-0 brushes at more pricier prices. :( I used to be able to purchase great brushes even at my local institutions. But no more. :(
    Its gotten to the point where I’ve been pondering taking some of my kitty’s back hair and making some experimental brushes since these seem to look and feel the best for brush making. I have already gathered other things that I might need for experimenting. Like some thin wood dowels and I might even use chop sticks for this.
    I also have some epoxy glue too to work with. Only thing I’m worried about is how the brush is going to pan out if I was to use thinner or brush cleaner on it for some reason. Or how my kitty might feel towards my experimenting. ;)
    Guess I’ll never know until I try. ;)

    But then cheep-o brushes do have there place too. :)

  2. Yeah, I think they can get away with pretty much anything, so word of mouth might be the best way to judge brush quality. I’d love to see a homemade brush, and how it fares… I get the feeling that good brushmaking is a nuanced art in itself.

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